Israeli soldiers today killed an armed Palestinian militant who military officials said was attempting to flee a building that troops were preparing to raid in the northern West Bank city of Nablus. Palestinian officials said neighbors heard the militant's screams for several hours as he bled to death while soldiers refused to allow an ambulance to reach the scene.
The killing of Ibrahim Abu Hawash, a member of the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, prompted accusations of cruelty against the Israeli soldiers by Hamas officials and nearby residents who said they heard his cries of anguish between 3 and 5 a.m.
As with many such incidents, neither side's description of events could be confirmed independently because the shooting occurred in the pre-dawn darkness of a city under curfew enforced by Israeli military forces.
An Israeli military spokesman said Abu Hawash was shot as he leapt from the first-floor window of a building that troops were about to storm because militants were believed to be inside.
The spokesman said another Palestinian man then dragged Abu Hawash back into the building and refused to give himself up, despite repeated demands by the soldiers. Medical treatment was denied, the spokesman said, because the other man in the building, who soldiers believed was armed, refused to surrender. Neither man fired on the soldiers, the spokesman said.
"We can't just give medical treatment to a terrorist inside an apartment . . . when we know he's armed," said a spokesman for the Israeli Central Command, which has authority over Nablus operations. "They know at any time they can give themselves up, raise a white flag or get out -- they won't be hurt. In this case, these guys knew what they were doing."
The spokesman said soldiers stormed the building at about 5 a.m., an hour or two after Abu Hawash was shot. They found his body and arrested one other man in the building they described as a militant. The spokesman said two guns and some ammunition were found in the building.
"They opened fire at [Abu Hawash] and shot him in the left leg," Adnan Asfour , a Hamas political official, said in a statement on the group's Web site. He said that Israeli soldiers refused to allow rescue services to reach the scene and allowed Abu Hawash to bleed to death.
"It was a cold-blooded killing and an extrajudicial killing that revealed the real, ugly, criminal face of the occupation," Asfour said.
The medical examiner at the Nablus hospital where Abu Hawash's body was examined said he bled to death from a bullet wound in his leg and another in his abdomen. The medical examiner, Rashed Khwaled, said in a telephone interview that he saw no signs of beating or other torture.
Five other accused militants were arrested in a sweep of nearby apartments, according to Palestinian officials.
Meanwhile, in Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers retreated to the edges of the city to allow Christmas services to be conducted.
The Vatican's senior representative in the Holy Land, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, told Israelis at midnight Mass: "Blood has been flowing in your cities and streets, but the key to solving this conflict is in your hands. By your actions so far, you have crushed the Palestinian people but you still have not achieved peace."
Despite a drenching rain and the somber mood of a holy city devoid of its usual Christmas lights, trees and festivity, small groups of worshipers and pilgrims were allowed to pass military checkpoints and visit the city.
Israeli troops reoccupied Bethlehem with tanks and soldiers last month after a suicide bomber from the city blew up a bus in Jerusalem, killing himself and 11 Israelis.